The Sullivan mine in southeast British Columbia, Canada near the town of Kimberly was granted new life after being shut down, transitioning from a materials mine to a “SunMine” facility that harvested solar energy. The mining industry is now looking at the repurposed area and accompanying solar field as an example of how old mining sites could still be overhauled to generate revenue and energy, even if the land there is contaminated.

Kimberly’s SunMine produces around 1 MW of electricity, which is enough to meet the energy needs of 200 homes. As solar plants can go this is a bit on the small side, but there is enough land to expand the plant up to about 200 MW, which would be more than enough energy to power Kimberly and some surrounding communities.

After the mining company Teck donated the land to the city of Kimberly, city officials invested in the project with the goal of creating jobs and producing green energy. City officials look at SunMine as a test case for opening renewable energy facilities where old mines and oil operations once lived.

“I think specifically in Alberta, where there are a number of [otherwise unsuitable] brownfield sites and they don’t have the hydroelectric potential that British Columbia has, I could see this taking off,” said Kimberly’s chief administrator, Scott Sommerville. “It could be used instead of bringing diesel into power remote communities. They could shift over and at least supplement their power supply with solar.”

Meghan Harris-Ngae, an analyst for the consulting firm Ernst and Young, says that repurposing old mining operation sites is an excellent opportunity in terms of both environmental and economic concerns and that mining companies are considering overhauling old sites with renewable energy plants.

“…that doesn’t mean they [our clients] are necessarily looking to move away from their standard business, but they are looking at opportunities to diversify,” said Harris-Ngae.
“It’s in its infancy right now. We have some examples of clients doing this not just in Canada, but globally.”

The option to make money from land that is otherwise unusable, such as the Kimberly SunMine site, is attractive to companies because of both the cost of reclaiming land and because companies are increasingly under pressure to reduce environmental impacts from their operations.

The city of Kimberly made a small profit last year because of SunMine, even factoring in the $2 million Kimberly use to construct the project.